One of the books I am currently reading is Roberto Piazza‘s Soft Matter (see here and here for reviews) . In the book, there is a short paragraph on zeolites which left me wishing for more information. In particular, there was no illustration of a zeolite. A quick image search convinced me that this topic is a perfect fit for my blog.

So what is a zeolite? Zeolites form a class of minerals composed of aluminium, silicon, and oxygen. They form a very regular arrangement of pores which makes them highly useful in industrial applications.

In fact, they are so useful, that there has been a dedicated association, the International Zeolite Association, “to promote and encourage the development of all aspects of zeolite science and technology”. The journal of this association, Microporous and Mesoporous Materials, now incorporates an earlier journal entitled Zeolites.

How many zeolites are there? How can we construct more of them? Can mathematics predict the structure of new zeolites? Such questions naturally arise in the minds of mathematicians when they see images of zeolites.


A zeolite structure (AET) visualised using the IZA Zeolite Explorer.

Many such structures and images can be found in the Database of Zeolite Structures. In particular, looking at the Zeolite Building Schemes provided there feels like leafing through a mathematics book. Thus, it is not surprising that zeolites made it all the way into the Princeton Companion to Mathematics (Chapter VII: The Influence of Mathematics).

There already are computational methods for predicting zeolite structures, however, the resulting hypothetical zeolites need not be physically or chemically realisable. See Igor Rivin’s article Geometric simulations: A lesson from virtual zeolites in Nature Materials.

There is even a mathematical research project dedicated to zeolites: The Zeolite Project. So watch out for more zeolite math!

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